Multiple reports are coming in about new tests for SARS-nCoV-2 antibodies being developed and rushed into production:
• USA: Reuters dispatch
• From Belgium, De Standaard (in Dutch) reports on a homegrown antibody test that gives results in 15 minutes
• The UK is days away from rolling out “millions” of a similar test, developed at Oxford University, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.
Why is this a big deal? For one, antibody tests are way faster and easier to administer than the slow PCR testing for the virus itself. This is something that can be scaled up to entire populations of a region.
For another, if this confirms the theory of an Oxford epidemiologist that a substantial percentage of the UK population is already immune to the virus… That would completely transform the economic calculus. People who are immune could simply get tested, get a clean bill of health, and go back to work. This would go a long way to mitigating the economic damage (which ultimately filters down to everybody) of a prolonged lockdown.
UPDATE: The New Scientist (UK popular science magazine) reports that Neil Ferguson, the Imperial College modeler whose worst-case scenario predicted two million dead in the US and half a million dead in the UK alone has now drastically revised his predictions, as evidence accumulated that the virus was both spreading more rapidly (with R0 ≈ 3). and had a lower IFR (infection fatality rate) than was originally assumed.
He said that expected increases in National Health Service capacity and ongoing restrictions to people’s movements make him “reasonably confident” the health service can cope when the predicted peak of the epidemic arrives in two or three weeks. UK deaths from the disease are now unlikely to exceed 20,000, he said, and could be much lower.
The need for intensive care beds will get very close to capacity in some areas, but won’t be breached at a national level, said Ferguson. The projections are based on computer simulations of the virus spreading, which take into account the properties of the virus, the reduced transmission between people asked to stay at home and the capacity of hospitals, particularly intensive care units.
He is also quoted in the same article that “community testing and contact tracing wasn’t included as a possible strategy in the original modelling because not enough tests were available,” but that the UK should have the testing capacity “within a few weeks” to copy what South Korea has done and aggressively test and trace the general population.
(h/t Erik Wingren). Related article.
UPDATE 2: Dr. Deborah Birx, WH Coronavirus Response Coordinator, weighs in on the drastic downward revision